Defending the Fifth Freedom: Protecting the Right to Read for Incarcerated Individuals

Saturday, June 25, 1:00pm – 2:15pm


Panelists (left to right):

  • Reginald Dwayne Betts
  • Jeanie Austin
  • Randall Horton
  • Enrique Rivera
  • ALA Executive Director, Tracie D. Hall, Moderator
Defending the Fifth Freedom Panel Speakers Photo

A Reading and Panel Discussion
Moderated by ALA Executive Director Tracie D. Hall


The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, detaining almost 2.3 million people in various facilities in the US and its territories. Low literacy and limited access to reliable information networks have been identified as chief contributors to this prison pipeline. Though research has shown that increasing reading and learning for detained and formerly detained individuals leads to successful rehabilitation and reentry, book and digital access remains limited for many. The nonprofit PEN America has stated that “the most extensive book ban in America is happening in the prison system.” As ALA prepares to revise its Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions for the first time since 1992, this panel brings together some of the writers, thinkers, and practitioners advocating to preserve library services and the right to read in the age of mass incarceration.


Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the founder of Freedom Reads, a first-of-its-kind organization working to radically transform access to literature in prison. After serving nine years in prison beginning at age sixteen, Betts has gone on to become a graduate of the Yale Law School and a critically acclaimed writer. His three collections of poetry include the recently published, "Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era" and "Shahid Reads His Own Palm."

Jeanie Austin 

Jeanie Austin earned their PhD in library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Austin is a jail and reentry services librarian at the San Francisco Public Library and has provided library services in juvenile detention centers and jails for over a decade. In addition to authoring numerous journal articles, their book, "Library Services and Incarceration: Recognizing Barriers, Strengthening Access" was published by the American Library Association in 2021.

Randall Horton

Randall Horton is the recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, and a 2021 American Book Award for his collection of poetry {#289-128}. His latest book, "Dead Weight: A Memoir in Essays" was published by Northwestern University Press this year. Horton is currently the only tenured Full Professor in the United States to have had seven felony convictions. He teaches at the University of New Haven.

Enrique Rivera

Enrique Rivera is a bilingual outreach specialist at Multnomah County (Oreg.) Library. His passion for library services to incarcerated people developed when he became an avid library user after serving a 6-year prison sentence as a young adult. In 2018, Rivera combined his life experiences with his passion for libraries and began providing library services to adults in custody at Columbia River Correctional Institution and later at Multnomah County Inverness Jail. 

Tracie D. Hall – Moderator

In February 2020, Tracie D. Hall was appointed the American Library Association’s 10th executive director becoming the first African American woman to hold that role in its 146-year history. Hall has spent her career in library, educational, and arts administration.  She has worked at the Seattle Public Library, the New Haven Free Public Library, Hartford Public Library, and Queens Library where she served as Vice President for Strategy and Organizational Development. In 1998, she was among the first cohort of ALA’s Spectrum Scholars, a grant program to diversify librarianship, and later served as the director of ALA’s Office for Diversity. She has served on advisory councils for the Institute of Museum and Library Services and written for the field’s major publications. She was highlighted as a “Mover and Shaker” in the field by Library Journal early in her career. Hall has also served in multiple roles in academia, including as assistant dean of Dominican’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science in River Forest, IL and as visiting professor at Wesleyan, Southern Connecticut State, and Catholic Universities, among others. Most recently, Hall directed the culture portfolio at the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, developing new grant programs designed to foster greater equity and diversity in arts administration, scale neighborhood-based arts investment, and catalyze creative entrepreneurship. Prior to that, she worked as Deputy Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and as community investment strategist in Global Corporate Citizenship at The Boeing Company. A civic leader in Chicago, Hall was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to serve on the City of Chicago’s Cultural Advisory Council in 2020. She also serves on the Boards of the Court Theatre, Crossroads Fund, and Links Hall. In addition to her MLIS from the Information School at the University of Washington, Hall holds an MA in International and Area studies from Yale University and dual bachelor’s degrees in Law and Society and Black Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hall has also studied at the Universities of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in East Africa. A recipient of numerous honors and awards for her arts, library, and community leadership, Hall was born and raised in south central Los Angeles and makes her home on Chicago’s south side.